The food world of the south of France

Valentines Day always makes me think of romantic getaways, I love going away and exploring new cities and food in many different places. One iconic country for food for me is France. It’s always been a dream of mine to rent a villa in southern France and explore the food the region has to offer – plus a little bit of shopping.

The south of France is known for being extravagant and glamourous, with people coming from all over the world to relax, unwind and eat great food.

Food is a key part of the European culture and the this region is no exception, set off the coast of the continent it meets the Mediterranean and brings with it those iconic flavours.

Some meals may seem obviously from the Med but you may not know they are originally from the south of France. Tapenade, Aioli, Fougasse and Salade nicoise are a few examples of the food on offer in this region.

Herbes de Provence are a key part of cooking in this region, with most meals containing a mixture of seasoning made up of rosemary, oregano and thyme with sometimes additions of lavender. The spice blend is often seen in cooking and normally blended with olives to create meals such as Tapenade and Fougasse.

That is the essence of great French food, blending simple ingredients to create a rich and flavourful dish. And of course, the addition of great wine and cheese – but more on that later.

Many dishes from this region come attached with a great history, while the dish itself may have been adapted and changed slightly over the years, the heart of it is still the same.

Soupe a l’oignon, know to Brits as French Onion Soup, this iconic dish is arguably the most French dish you could ask for. On paper it sounds a rather boring meal but this is a great example of how the French combine basic flavours to create something a bit special.

Onions are caramelised in butter then have brandy or sherry added to them before the dish is mixed with meat stock (usually beef) and flour to thicken. Variations include adding water, milk or even eggs. Usually it is served with thick fresh bread topped with cheese which is then melted.

To give you bit of history about this dish, it dates back to the 18th century when it was eaten by poor people as it contained cheap ingredients. Now restaurants can charge a fortune for this dish due to it’s popularity but also the changes they’ve made over the years to it.

There are of course other traditional French dishes we’ve all heard of Coq au Vin, cassoulet, beef bourguignon and soufflé. So I will put those aside as we’ve all probably eaten them or maybe even made them ourselves.

Since the south of France is just over the border from Italy it’s no surprise they’ve taken some food inspiration from the fellow Mediterranean country. Pisalidiere is the French version of pizza, it’s made to eat outside with some wine and enjoyed in small portions.

Pissaladiere is effectively a caramelised onion and anchovy tart made in the same way as a pizza. The dough is a mixture between bread and pizza dough which is then topped with caramelised onions, olives and anchovies (typical Med ingredients.)

Unlike pizza it’s rolled into a rectangle shape which is then cut into squares and enjoyed usually as a starter or small main dish accompanied with fresh salad. Enjoyed on a warm summer evening where the dish is served lukewarm and paired with wine.

Of course a key feature in French cuisine has to be bread, it’s something many people think about when they imagine holidaying in France. So it’s no surprise another key dish from this region is bread based.

Socca in the south of Frances version of crepes, unlike Brittany and Paris who make them slightly more stereotypical, this region uses chickpea flour to create these flatbreads.

There are many different ways of cooking this dish and if you venture to this region you’ll witness this. Often it’s cooked on the side of the streets made on grills or open top ovens.

Bread is a key part of this region – if not the country for that matter – and is found in lots of traditional foods. As are many other dishes though with soups and salads featuring heavily.

If you’re planning on holidaying in this region below are a list of foods I’d highly recommend you try, either way you should try and give them all a go!

  • Tapenade: similar to hummus it’s made up of olives, capers and olive oil crushed and blended to create a paste. Often extra flavourings can be added including brandy, anchovies and garlic.
  • Aioli: this is a classic Mediterranean sauce made by combining garlic, olive oil and eggs. The ingredients are similar to mayonnaise and it’s usually served with seafood, chicken or even pork.
  • Fougasse: this is a type of bread associated with the south of France, usually patterned with slashes this flat round loaf is popular in this region. It can be flavoured with red onions or rosemary to give it an extra kick.
  • Bouillabaisse: the south of France is also the seafood capital with bouillabaise, a fish soup, being one of the most famous dishes. There are two varieties ‘du Ravi’ which has six different types of fish and ‘du Pecheur’ which has three types of fish.
  • Ratatouille: a classic french dish combining aubergine and peppers in a tomato sauce flavoured with classic Med herbs stewed in olive oil.

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